by Jerome a Paris
Tue Jan 22nd, 2013 at 06:38:02 AM EST
The FT journalists get it largely right:
Gérard Errera, former secretary-general of the French foreign ministry, sees it as a constant tension: "The constraint on the Franco-German relationship is that we are different on everything - our institutions, our history, our culture - and we don't always understand each other. Yet, we have to agree to make Europe work. So it always requires huge efforts to achieve compromises."
A senior German diplomat sees it in much the same way: "Franco-German co-operation is counterintuitive. There is a common misperception that France and Germany are doing things together because we want to. That's rubbish," he says. "We are different on every choice of substance between us, whether it is free trade versus protectionism, creating a strategic defence industry or being complementary with the Americans, or what we put on the table: beer or wine.
"But only if these two starting points can be reconciled is there a chance of moving Europe forwards."
I was glad to see that position (the Franco-German relationship works because it starts from so far apart and the two countries have decided that they need to reach a compromise nevertheless; if they ca nagree, the compromise will likely be tolerable to most other Europeans, not because they are less important, but because their own starting position is most often somewhere in-between), which I've oft repeated, being given such a prominent place in the FT's full page on the anniversary.
And they publish, at the same time, French and German commenters that seem to focus on all the wrong things:
François Heisbourg says he is deeply struck by the loss of Franco-German intimacy
Yet if happiness has become impossible, divorce is quite improbable, and for the most banal reasons. Splitting would be costly and is best avoided for the sake of the "children" (the European pTaggedroject). Abandoning the exclusivity of the relationship would force each partner to build ad hoc coalitions for every initiative in an uncongenial, EU-wide context of economic recession and political acrimony. Both countries would pay an enormous price were the euro and the EU to collapse - and, without French-German convergence, such an implosion becomes more likely.
Yet the real game-changer could come from the third big EU player: Britain. If the UK left, France would find herself locked into a situation in which Germany's distinctive strategic culture and security policy would prevail. This would not be easy to accept for the French, who continue, like the British, to have their own views on international security and the use of force. France could then be tempted to balance the German centre through the systematic practice of countervailing coalitions with the other members of the EU. And, with that, the spirit of the Elysée treaty would be irrevocably lost.
(Not surprising, I suppose, from a guy focusing on military affairs)
Berlin and Paris need a relationship reset; writes Joachim Bitterlich
... Yet this cannot mask the fact that the relationship appears to be in a deep crisis. Never have the rifts appeared so deep and wide. Behind this are the fundamental changes that have swept the world over the past 20 years.
Parts of the French political class still do not seem to have grasped the recasting of Europe brought about by the reunification of Germany and the continent at large - a development that robbed them of their special status with regard to their neighbour. Some view a Germany that is more free in expressing and defending its national interests as a return to Bismarck's balance-of-power strategy. Understandably, this is not a pleasant prospect.
Another reason lies in economics, where the difference between a strong Germany and a France in progressive decline is striking. In this regard, France is the most worrying nation in Europe today. Germany needs a neighbour with a strong economy, not an inferiority complex. If "power" is a taboo concept in Germany, in France it is terms such as "German model", "competitiveness" and "globalisation".
No wonder, then, that the nations' responses to the financial crisis are so different. For Germans, saving and "intelligent austerity" are the correct means to growth. To Paris, this is an unworkable idea that could only come from Berlin. But the French solution, mutualising the debt, is no better.
(to be fair, Mr Bitterlich, the former national security adviser to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, then moves to a more optimistic take and offers some possible solutions, but the diagnosis is still to some extent depressing)